ABOVE, MELANIE LYNSKEY AS AMY IN HELLO, I MUST BE GOING
Melanie Lynskey, while perhaps not a household name, is definitely a familiar face. The actress has appeared in everything from Ever After, Coyote Ugly, and Sweet Home Alabama to Two and a Half Men and lauded indie films such as Up In the Air and Win Win. It is difficult not to have a soft spot for Lynskey, popping up unexpectedly in the middle of a film and dutifully shining as some minor character. Fortunately (or finally!) Lynskey has a starring role in Sundance's Hello, I Must be Going, directed by Todd Louiso. Perhaps after this film Melanie will finally get the rolls she deserves, a mid-career rejuvenation similar to that of Philip Seymore Hoffman, star of Louiso's directorial debut, Love Liza (2002). The film itself has gotten a mixed reception—a well-trod plotline (thirtysomething woman deals with an identity crisis post divorce and finds herself re-awakened by an affair with a much younger man) redeemed by marvelous performances, Melanie's in particular.
We caught up with Melanie in the midst of the Sundance madness to chat about festival fears and whether she believes that this really is a "break-through" role.
EMMA BROWN: Congratulations! You've been getting really great reviews.
MELANIE LYNSKEY: Oh, thank you. Yeah, it's been pretty positive on the whole. It's exciting.
BROWN: Can you tell me a little bit about how you became attached to Hello, I Must be Going and the role that you play?
LYNSKEY: About a year ago I did a reading for the Sundance Institute, a little stage reading, and it was of the script Hello, I Must be Going and I just loved the script so much. At the time I just thought, "Gosh, I feel so lucky to have gotten to read the script out loud and played this character for this day," because I never imagined I would get to do the movie, but I ended up being able to, it's so exciting!
BROWN: You have a very diverse résumé and you've been in some quite high-profile films, but generally as a supporting character. How was it to play the protagonist?
LYNSKEY: It's a wonderful challenge, but it's a whole other thing. I'm in every scene in the movie, so you have to constantly be on top of it, there's not time to hang out and check your emails. [It's] nice because you maintain a focus. I guess it was a surprise to me the kind of energy I had [laughs], I was like, "Oh god, I'm totally going to lose it" but I didn't, it was exciting to have such a good part to play. Another nice thing about it was, when I saw the finished film I had a real sense of the image on the screen [as] exactly what I had wanted for the character. I normally play supporting parts, and when things get cut the peripheral characters are the things that go first as they're not necessary to the story, so a lot of character stuff can go missing when you're doing a supporting role.
BROWN: Was it nerve-wracking to open the festival?
LYNSKEY: Yeah! People kept saying to me, "Ooh, how exciting!" And I was like, "I don't think I feel excited." [laughs] It's an amazing honor to open the festival but also everyone is really ready to see something. But it was really well received.
BROWN: Are you completely exhausted?
LYNSKEY: Yes! I feel like a zombie. [laughs]
BROWN: You were really young when you started.
LYNSKEY: Yeah, I turned 16 making my first film [Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures].
BROWN: Oh wow. Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?
LYNSKEY: I kind of had the best start possible you could have to your career. I learnt everything on that job, and I feel like if I could go back and tell myself anything it would be to give myself a break; [laughs] just that I can do it and not have so much stress. I spent a lot of time sort of going, "Oh, I don't know if I'm good enough," And I feel a lot better about myself now, so that's the only thing I would change.
BROWN: Then you went back to school after Heavenly Creatures.
LYNSKEY: Oh yeah, I had to finish high school.
BROWN: You weren't worried that it would be difficult to get back into acting if you went back to school after your first film?
LYNSKEY: I always wanted to be an actor, but I had this whole plan to go to a good drama school and do it that way. I wasn't trying to get into movies; someone came to my high school and auditioned some girls, so it was a complete accident. I lived in a pretty small, provincial town in New Zealand; there weren't agents or anything like that, so I just had no way of going about it. I just thought "All right, I'll carry on with that plan that I had to go to drama school." So yeah, there was a good straight year where I wasn't working as an actor but it didn't seem like such a crazy thing, I didn't really have a fear of not being able to make it happen, because it seemed so impossible anyway.
BROWN: How did you get back into acting?
LYNSKEY: I got an agent in LA, but I didn't know how [to move to LA or] what the procedure was and was said, "You can come stay with me." So she let me come stay with her and I started to go on auditions and eventually I got a movie, I was 19, named Ever After. It was a big-budget sort of Hollywood movie and I'd never done auditions before, so people like Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston were so kind and helpful, giving me advice and giving me support. That was how I got back into my acting life.
BROWN: What has been you're favorite film experience so far?
LYNSKEY: Probably small indie films, where everyone is there because they love it and everyone is in the same situation, there's no hierarchy where the actors are making a bunch of money, there's no crazy producer. It's just a really nice [environment], everyone is staying in the same crappy hotel.
BROWN: A lot of these first reviews of Hello have focused on your performance and how it is sort of your "breakout" role. Do you feel like things are going to change for you?
LYNSKEY: To be totally honest, I've been doing this for so long that I've learnt to never have expectations anymore. I don't mean to sound cynical, I'm just grateful for the experience and I'm happy that people like the movie.
HELLO, I MUST BE GOING IS CURRENTLY SCREENING AT SUNDANCE.